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Mayoral race features council veterans

Robert Craghead and LeRoy Benton

Robert Craghead and LeRoy Benton

The Fulton mayoral race features the return of two city government veterans.

Former mayor Robert Craghead and former Ward 1 councilman LeRoy Benton will face off on April 5 to determine which of the longtime local leaders will take the helm of the Fulton City Council for the next four years.

Craghead and Benton shared several common interests for the future of the city, but the pair — who served on the council together for eight years — each listed differing strengths as the reasons they each would make a strong mayor.

Craghead, who served as mayor from 1999-2007 and was a councilman from 1971-79, said he decided to push for a return to the mayor’s seat because he “missed the involvement with the people and knowing what’s going on with the city.”

“I like to be involved. There’s always plenty to do and plenty to think about,” Craghead said.

With his long history of leadership in the community — including serving as an elder and trustee of First Presbyterian Church, the Kiwanis Club, the Kingdom Projects Board, the Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce Board, the Fulton Area Development Corporation Board, the Fulton Utility Board and the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society — Craghead certainly has experience.

He cited a number of achievements as mayor to further illustrate his ability to help lead the city in the right direction, including construction of the new city hall, extension of the half-cent sales tax for $4.5 million in water pressure improvements, a four-mile extension of the Stinson Creek Trail, 55 acres added to the city park system, creation of Fulton Pride Day and securing a Missouri Department of Transportation grant for a 4,000-foot runway at the airport.

“I didn’t do that all myself,” Craghead was quick to point out. “That takes a good council, administration and citizen support.”

As for the future, the former mayor said one of the things he’d like to work on is improving city streets and curbing, noting “the town looks a little tired.” He said continuing efforts to revitalize Fulton’s downtown.

“I think the downtown is important. There are too many empty stores; it needs some uplifting,” Craghead said. “It needs some help. It needs to be a focal point that people want to come to.”

He said he has some ideas on how to do that, such as cheaper utility rates to help entice businesses and holding regular concerts or appearances by area singing groups “so there’s something going on downtown that people want to go to.”

Craghead also mentioned the possibility of developing a small RV park to increase overnight tourism.

“If you drive by Wal-Mart at night you always see a few parked in the lot overnight,” he said. “This would give them someplace that’s secure, and I think might draw some more people (to visit Fulton).”

Craghead also spoke about supporting FADC and Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce efforts to promote business growth, developing the south side park on Tennyson Road and continuing efforts with county and state agencies to build the second nuclear reactor in Callaway County. He mentioned co-ordinating efforts with the county to get MoDOT to upgrade Route F/J/WW to Cedar Creek in Callaway County as well, as a way to encourage travel from Fulton to Columbia.

“It’s obvious we’re never going to be a Columbia or a Jefferson City. What we’ve got to do is try to be a niche community so people say it’s not so bad to live in Fulton and work in Columbia,” Craghead said.

He said his most important goal is to get local leaders and residents involved in working on plans for Fulton’s future.

“I want to think about what we want Fulton to look like in 20 years,” Craghead said. “I want to form a group of visionary Fulton citizens to talk about ... strategic planning, which we haven’t done since 1999.”

He said developing such ideas is what makes him a strong candidate to be Fulton’s next mayor.

“I can think outside the box. You’ve got to dream the dream sometimes,” Craghead said. “The nuts and bolts are important ... but leadership has to be something that brings new ideas.”

Benton, who served 10 years as a Ward I council representative from 1998 to 2008, gave a similar reason to Craghead for his desire to return to the council as mayor.

“I have a great interest in people and the desire to see Fulton be all it can be, to succeed and serve its citizens,” Benton said. “I’ve had folks for years that have encouraged me to run (for mayor) and it just so happens I’m at a time in my life where I feel like I could do it.

“I feel like I have something to offer based on my experience.”

That experience includes years of service on a number of area organizations, including the Fulton Utility Board, the Kiwanis Club, the Woodhaven Learning Center Board of Directors and more than nine years as the director of the Fulton Housing Authority.

Benton, whose accomplishments as a member of the Fulton City Council closely mirror those of Craghead, said he believes there are several issues he would like to tackle if he gets elected, with developing a new strategic plan at the top of the list.

“I think it’s really important to get through strategic planning as it’s been a little over 10 years since we’ve done that,” Benton said.

He said much of what the council currently is dealing with is “business as usual, but it also behooves them to begin planning for the future.”

“Economic development is something we really need to look at to see if there’s something we can do to spur development, to attract more retail.”

Other big issues, Benton said, are efforts to keep utility costs down, and work on the sewage plant and system.

“I’d like to see us get a little more aggressive in evaluating that and deciding how we’re going to step up to address that,” he said. “I’d also like to see us get to a point where we’re promoting the services with the utility department more with things like underground feed, automatic withdrawals for bill payment, energy audits and levelized billing.”

Another city service Benton said he would like to see get more promotion is the recycling program.

“That’s going to be one of the few tools left to us to help control our trash costs,” he said.

Benton also mentioned improving the city’s relationship with the county commission.

“I’d like to see us reach out to the county government a little more and see if we can get more input into and better understand the EOC,” Benton said.

He said that desire and ability to work with others is part of what would make him a good mayor.

“Again, my experience (makes me a good candidate) and the fact that I’ve had a lot of leadership,” Benton said. “I’m a good listener and I like to facilitate discussion and involve as many citizens as possible in the discussion.”

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